What defines a genre of music? Who gets to authoritatively determine that their definition is correct? When discussing folk song, it already is difficult enough to find a way to securely define it. Then, when we aim to divide the category up further, even more problems arise. Each source I’ve used separates the songs by different genres, based on performer, race of performer, or subject of music… so where is the sense!?!

In Dorothy Scarborough’s On the Trail of Negro Folk Songs, she separates the genres as follows:

“Negro Ballads, Dance Songs, Children’s Game-Songs, Lullabies, Songs About Animals, Work-Songs, Railroad Songs, and Blues”

John Lomax and Ruby Lomax, on the other hand, categorize the songs as such in their 1939 trip field notes:

“Field Hollers, Dance Song, Wood-Chopping Song, Train Song, Blues, Lullabye, Children’s Song, Courting Song, Mexican Song, Work Song, Funeral Song, Rag, Patriotic Song, Native American Song, Love Song, Game Song, Drinking Song, Ballad, Greeting Song, Serenade, Fiddle Song, Cowboy Song, Party Song, Negro Song, Sandman’s Song, Sentimental Song, Hymn, Tree-Cutting Song, Hunting Song, Funny Song, Cradle Song, Baptizing Song, Mourning Song, Field Ballad, and Reel.”

Alan and John Lomax, in Our Singing Country, separate genres as such:

“Negro Spirituals, White Religious Songs, The Holiness People, White Dance Tunes, Negro Game Songs, Bahaman Negro Songs, Lullabies, Whoppers, Courting Song, Old-Time Love Songs, French Songs and Ballads from Southwestern Louisiana, Soldiers and Sailors Songs, Lumberjack and Teamster Songs, Cowboy Songs, Railroaders and Hobo Songs, Miners’ Songs, Farmers of the South Songs, Outlaw Songs, Hollers and Blues, and Negro Gang Songs”

Clearly, continuity is difficult to find. How did they decide how to categorize “field hollers” and “work songs?” Because each genre needs to be consistent across the board when I’m mapping and categorizing the songs, I have to find a way to put them together in some sensical way. This is what I’ve come up with thus far:

Ballads, Dance Songs, Children’s/Game Songs, Cowboy songs, Lullaby, Field Holler, Work Song, Instrumental Song, Blues, and Railroad songs.

These seem to be the genres that have the most overlap between all three sources. Perhaps I should leave the genres separate, and let the user toggle them? Unfortunately, Google Maps has a limit for the number of layers allowed (10), so that makes it impossible to have a layer with each of the genres. More importantly, I think that more research should be done in the future to clearly define what we consider each genre to be.

For more information on different genres, try taking a gander at the articles below:

Blues, Field Holler and Work Songs, Lullabyes, and Children’s songs.